The powerful Republican leader of the Indiana House of Representatives said he’s open to the idea of preventing IndyGo from using dedicated bus lanes for the Blue Line, bringing new momentum to a perennial proposal among some GOP lawmakers that the transit agency says would derail the planned bus route.
House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, told IBJ that he’s been approached by business owners on Washington Street who are concerned that the projected two-year construction period for the Blue Line, which will run east and west on the thoroughfare, would force them to shut down.
“I think the idea of the Red Line, the Blue Line…felt like a good idea at the time, but I think the idea of putting more lane restrictions on a street like Washington Street needs to be considered,” Huston said.
“I also think that there may be a discussion to be had about the state…taking back control [of Meridian and Washington streets], and working with the city to do that. And if we’re going to do that, then I think moving too fast on the Blue Line would be a mistake,” he added.
His comments come after Sen. Aaron Freeman, a Republican from Indianapolis, filed legislation that would prevent IndyGo from using dedicated bus lanes for the Blue Line.
Freeman has told IBJ he’s not against public transit, but against the dedicated lanes, which he said will slow traffic on Washington Street, a major thoroughfare that borders the Statehouse.
The transit agency says Freeman’s proposal would effectively kill the planned bus rapid transit line.
“Without dedicated lanes, the Blue Line does not move forward and would mean the devastating loss of millions of dollars in traffic calming and safety features, along with significant drainage and infrastructure improvements, including sidewalks, street paving, and ADA curb ramps along Washington Street that otherwise would not be realized along a corridor that desperately needs it,” IndyGo spokesperson Carrie Black told IBJ last month after Freeman’s bill was filed.
The issue is one of several in recent years that has put the Republican-dominated Legislature at odds with the initiatives heralded by Democratic-controlled city-county government in Indianapolis.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on the bill on Thursday. Sen. Ryan Mishler, a Republican from Mishawaka who chairs that committee, did not respond to IBJ’s request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Should the bill advance out of the Senate and move to the House, it would likely be sent to the House Roads and Transportation, which is chaired by Rep. Jim Pressel, a Republican from northwest Indiana.
Pressel told IBJ he remains “on the fence” on the issue but “would definitely look at it with an open mind.”
Freeman and other Republican lawmakers have taken on similar efforts in previous legislative sessions, but those did not publicly receive a green flag from Speaker Huston.
In 2022, a bill from the late Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, would’ve banned new dedicated bus lanes outside Mile Square downtown, though it never got a hearing. Later, an amendment authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, would have conditioned the removal of some public transportation funding requirements on compliance with new lane minimums.
In 2021, Freeman filed a bill that included similar fundraising penalties as well as an amendment that would have required IndyGo to reimburse utility companies for relocation work. That legislation passed the Senate but was not called for a hearing in the House.
Freeman authored an amendment in the 2020 session that would have withheld money from IndyGo if it didn’t raise enough private donations.
Construction on the Blue Line, which carries an estimated price tag of $370 million, is slated to begin in 2025 and finish by 2027.
The Red Line, which links Broad Ripple to the University of Indianapolis, began operation in 2019 and already has dedicated lanes. Meanwhile, IndyGo is slated to soon complete the Purple Line, which runs from downtown Indianapolis to Lawrence and utilizes dedicated lanes.